„YMCA Europe is a working fellowship to strengthen movements where people grow in body, mind and spirit.“

YMCA Belarus Festival. Mobilizing yourself.

25th August 2010

Within an actual campaign on resource mobilization YMCA Belarus is also trying to find its own way of settling stability and progressive development. Unfortunately, according to the laws an NGO in Belarus can’t earn money in any way and grants getting possibilities are very unlimited. So, this is a big challenge for a young organization to put a strategy for development when you totally depend on the position of the government towards NGOs and from time to time have a danger to start thinking about survival rather than moving forward.

So, to prevent such dangerous thoughts National Movement of YMCA Belarus with support of YMCA Europe decided to make International Cultural Festival 5-9 August 2010 in Vitebsk. Vitebsk was chosen as a city which can attract foreigners to come as it is the Motherland of Mack Chagall and the place where a lot of famous artists were working. It was planned as an event which would unite all local YMCAs to share experience and motivate each other, as a platform where youth can learn more about their national culture and a place where different nationalities can meet, communicate and feel YMCA spirit.

For the beginning this idea seemed absolutely absurd. There was no money at all for all: for preparatory meetings, for participants’ transportation, food, accommodation, stationary and materials... Even Mikhail Guskov, YMCA Europe Regional Secretary, who always supports all creative ideas and helps much, hesitated a lot. But the National Board of YMCA Belarus (newly elected and not very much experienced :)) said “Yes”! And the work started.

The advertising campaign was organized. We settled participation fees which can cover meal and accommodation, we invited as many foreigners as possible – we had to put also participation fee for them to support the Festival. Unfortunately not many could come because advertizing process started too late and people had plans for summer already.

The Steering Committee of the Festival consisted mostly of the members of the National Board. That was the way to save resources for meetings – we included discussions on the Festival to our agendas. But it wasn’t enough, so we were preparing the Festival by Skype.

Undreamt fact was about renting room as a Festival area. Vitebsk YMCA could agree to make the event in one of the best places in Vitebsk with no rent fee! That was only because of long partnership relations with local authorities.

Much help came from “VIP group tour” – a project which was organized by YMCA Europe as a resource mobilization campaign for YMCA at the same time with the Festival.

That was very helpful when it was possible to include some preparation for the Festival in an additional TtT (training to trainers) part. It provided not only elaboration of common vision of the event, but intercultural dimension of the preparation process. Leaders from Russia, Ukraine and Moldova influenced a lot the content of the Festival.

5 August 2010. Vitebsk, Belarus. Temperature is about 40 degrees above zero. 122 officially registered participants from 6 cities in Belarus, also Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Switzerland, Finland and Armenia. Secretary General of World Alliance of YMCAs Johan Vilhelm Eltvik pronounces his speech and officially opens the Festival by making first symbolic steps above Vitebsk. Unbelievable. It started.

The Festival “Steps above Vitebsk. Rainbow above Belarus” included different components, which helped the participants to learn and share, have fun and perform on stage, do some sports and take part in competitions, explore Vitebsk and open Marc Chagall’s art. Excursions, workshops, role games, concerts, performances, competitions, devotions – all these elements embraced possibilities for self-expression, creativity, cultural learning, YMCA understanding; physical, intellectual and spiritual development.

Now, we can say that it happened. And it was successful. The smiles of young people, their active participation, creativity, their tears of farewell and comments in the Memory Book really prove it!

Vitebsk is a Cultural Capital. I heard a lot about it, but now I share every word of this statement! (Serzh, Lida-Minsk)

You make us happy! Thank you! (YMCA Switzerland)

Alas, my Friends. I did not know you all before... I love you and will remember everything apart! And Marc Chagall is in my heart... (Dima Vakhovich)

Perhaps, the Festival is the best thing that has been in my life... (Nastia, Vitebsk)

That was a really motivational event not only for young participants, but also for leaders who work for a long time in YMCA. That was a perfect platform for communication! It gave possibilities to know each other, to share YMCA experience, to communicate with people from different countries and even master English with foreign participants. That was so important to prove that your local YMCA is not alone in the world, that all stories, pictures and movies shown by leaders - is truth! It was a perfect experience for a new National Board to work together as a team! That was the first time when such an Event was organized on the basis of one of the local organizations, what gave a big push for program and institutional development. Vitebsk YMCA had to work as a team, organize work, prepare volunteers, agree the Event with local authorities. It influenced the image of the organization in the city.

But the main thing that it was a great experience of Resource Mobilization. And it was about people. We managed to mobilize our youth to participate, our partners to help us, our foreign friends to come and, most important, OURSELVES to want and manage.

Author/Source: Olga Lukina, YMCA Belarus Chairperson